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The ZOE RAAM Race Team 2023: (L-R) John Glick, Tom Jordan, Kevin Quinter, Merv Beiler, Nate Eakin, Craig Whiteford, Matt Lapp. Not pictured: Jeff Conaway. To support the team, go to ZOERAAM.com.

Wildcat Cycling Through Kansas to Fight Child Trafficking “Pandemic”

When Kansas State alum Craig Whiteford learned about the scale and devastation of child trafficking, it reminded him of something from his work life.


Craig Whiteford

Whiteford, who graduated with a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD from Kansas State, heads up a team of scientists at Becton Dickinson, who developed test strips for COVID.

“Child trafficking is a pandemic,” said Whiteford. “It crosses continents. To be perfectly fair, I had heard about it, but I never really understood it, and I did not want to.”

Whiteford had to admit that he had cast a blind eye to this particular pandemic. It was not on his microscope.

“But once the Lord started opening my eyes to it, I knew I had to do something,” he said. “And then when I learned about Race Across America and ZOE International, I saw I could do something about this through cycling, which is something I love.”

Cross-Continent Fight

To fight a pandemic that crosses continents, Whiteford will cross a continent himself, including the great states of Kansas and Missouri. Race Across America (RAAM) is a 3,000-mile, coast-to-coast sprint that will begin June 17 in Oceanside, California, and end, if all goes well, by June 23 for the ZOE International team of eight cyclists.

Their route through Kansas will include Ulysses, Montezuma, Greensburg, Pratt, Maize (a suburb of Wichita), El Dorado, Yates Center, and Fort Scott, just about an hour south of the Kansas City metro.

ZOE was founded in 2003 by Mike and Carol Hart, who were so moved by trafficking’s destructive effect on kids, they sold their custom home in California, set up ZOE’s headquarters in Santa Clarita, California, and moved to Thailand where the problem of child trafficking was growing.

ZOE now operates in the United States, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Thailand. Race Across America is an opportunity for ZOE to build awareness of child trafficking and raise funds to fight it. Each cyclist has a $20,000 fundraising goal, and the total amount they aim to raise is $750,000.

The battle cry on each cyclist’s kit and bike is the same: Their freedom is our fuel.

Whiteford is an avid cyclist and an accomplished Ironman Triathlete, scoring in the top seven percent of all men in his age group worldwide. Fellow cyclist Matt Lapp made him aware of ZOE and its RAAM endeavor.

“If people go to the ZOE web site (gozoe.org), we can focus attention on child trafficking and bring light into darkness. It exists because we don’t want to talk about it or think about it. But if we can raise awareness, we can bring light into this situation and begin to stem the tide of the child trafficking pandemic.”

Whiteford admitted that it’s easy to think of child trafficking as something occurring elsewhere in the developing world but not in the United States. “We have 14,000 to 17,000 trafficked in the U.S. annually,” he said. “This is something that could be happening in the next neighborhood or in your own neighborhood.”

Sunflower State of Mind

Back home in York, Pennsylvania, Whiteford will have a cheering section in his wife, Hope, and three kids, Nora, Emma, and Gabriel. But he will also have plenty of support right here in the Sunflower State.

kansas trafficking

The Whiteford family includes (L-R) Nora, Emma, Hope, Craig and Gabriel.

Whiteford’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Chris and Emily O’Connell, and his niece and nephew, Jack and Lily, live in Overland Park. Also, he has buddies from Delta Sigma Phi at Kansas State who live in Wichita, Dodge City, and KC. His best buddy, Don Greer, lived in Pratt, which is on the RAAM route.

Whiteford also happens to be a huge Chiefs fan.

But his love for the state where he lived for 10 years goes beyond fandom, family, or fraternity.

“Everyone asks me, ‘Where are you excited to ride through?’,” Whiteford said. “I tell them I’m excited about going through Kansas, and they’ll say, ‘Why are you excited about that? It’s flat and there’s nothing there.’ But I tell them, ‘There’s plenty there.’

“I was born and raised in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to go to school in Kansas. My dad told me he wanted me to experience Kansas, because the people are grounded and solid, and I would learn a lot from them.

“I remember driving down the road in Kansas and people would just wave at me, and I’d think, ‘Why are they waving?’ Kansans are friendly people. They strike up a conversation with you and take a genuine interest in you. I know they will be waving and cheering for us. Kansas is just a wonderful place.

“And one more reason I’m excited to go through Kansas—it is flat, and if I get a tailwind, I’ll go really fast!”

To support the team visit their website HERE.

–Clem Boyd

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